EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - For the fourth time in five years, the University of Evansville men's basketball team picked up a win an opening-night as the Purple Aces defeated Arkansas State by a final of 77-63 on Friday evening in the Ford Center.
Leading the way for the Aces was junior Ryan Taylor. He posted 21 points and seven rebounds to lead the squad in both stats. He was one of four double-digit scorers for the team. Newcomer K.J. Riley finished the night with 12 points. He hit a game-high eight free throws in nine attempts. Dru Smith notched 11, all in the first half, while Dainius Chatkevicius had 10 points, six caroms and three blocks.
"I am excited for our guys. We were very aggressive tonight, attacking off of the dribble drive," head coach Marty Simmons said. "Our guys were able aggressive in shooting the three. If we can play inside out, I think that will really open some things up for us."
Arkansas State was led by Ty Cockfield. He hit eight shots and five free throws to lead all players with 22 points. Connor Kern had 10.
Evansville started the night 0-for-5 from the floor with three turnovers before a basket by Ryan Taylor at the 15:42 mark ended the drought. Noah Frederking gave the Aces their first lead of the night at 6-4 and with 11:59 remaining in the first half, Solomon Hainna hit a basket to give UE the lead for good.
"A key reason to the victory tonight as that we were able to take care of the ball," UE sophomore Dru Smith said. "We had a rough stretch at the beginning of the game, but we really did well from that point on."
A 6-0 stretch pushed the lead to 14-8 as Chatkevicius had back-to-back field goals. Arkansas State cut the gap to four on a few occasions, but with the Aces hanging onto a 23-19 advantage, the squad notched eight of the next ten to take the first double figure lead of the night at 31-21. The lead stood strong at 11 (38-27) at the break.
Dru Smith connected on three out of six shots in the half to post 11 points. He was 5-5 from the foul line. Ty Cockfield paced ASU with 14 in the half.
A Duane Gibson bucket combined with a triple from Ryan Taylor gave Evansville its largest lead in the opening minute of the second half at 43-27. ASU got as close as nine but the Aces kept adding to the lead. A Taylor put back midway through the latter frame made it a 59-40 game before his two free throws added to more to the lead.
The lead for UE reached as many as 26 with 5:45 left as K.J. Riley drained a pair of free throws. Arkansas State cut into the gap in the final minutes making it a final of 77-63.
Free throws were a great strong point for the Aces, who hit 26 on the night while limiting ASU to just 10. Dainius Chatkevicius said that was a big advantage for Evansville.
We stopped them from shooting free throws," Chatkevicius said. "Our defense did pretty well with that and held them to just six, that was a big key for us."
For the game, UE finished the night shooting 45.1% while limiting the Red Wolves to 40.7%. The rebounding battle went ASU's way, 36-34.
It is a quick turnaround for the Aces as they are back at the Ford Center for an 11 a.m. contest against North Carolina Central.